Mindanao: not peace at any price

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

In Malaysia last June 3, 2010, the Philippine government agreed with the MILF to continue peace negotiations upon the assumption of the presidency by Noynoy Aquino. The "Declaration of Continuity for Peace Negotiations" between our government and the MILF, according to Ambassador Rafael Seguis, chief government peace negotiator, "will provide a smooth transition to the next administration," providing "closure to this stage of the peace negotiations with a clear statement by both parties that we will preserve our gains and accomplishments, and work our best for the continuation of the talks."

Indeed. However, it must also be stated that we are actually entering a crucial phase in the peace process precisely because of the transition of power. This early, President-elect Aquino should provide assurances to the people that the missteps in the past will not be repeated and that the territory of the Republic will remain.

Because while indeed we should aspire for peace and work hard to resolve the "legitimate grievances and claims for the people of Moro ancestry and origin," the same should still not override the interests of the Republic. Peace is, of course, always something to be desired, but if there’s one thing that we Filipinos should know by now, it is that peace at any price always ends up costing way too high. Somebody once said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, so far, with the MOA-AD as an example, the Philippines has demonstrated that such road is not only paved with good intentions, it’s furnished, lighted, and gilded with it.

To recall, the MOA-AD essentially began with acknowledgments from the government of the Bangsamoro rights. Then it goes on to identify the Bangsamoro as the natives, Muslim or not, of Mindanao, including Palawan and Sulu at the time of colonization, their descendants, whether mixed or of full blood, and their spouses. The MOA then designates the territory of the Bangsamoro as the land -- as well as waters, airspace, and atmospheric space -- embracing the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan geographic region. The Bangsamoro Juridical Entity is mandated to have jurisdiction over those areas, including "territorial waters", as well as the use of resources. Finally, the BJE is free to enter into any economic cooperation and trade relations with foreign countries, establish trade missions in other countries, and enter into environmental treaties.

With that, inadvertently or not, our government gave the MILF the license to create another state at the expense of the Philippines. As the Supreme Court rightly pointed out, the MILF actually got all the requisites of a state as provided under the 1933 Montevideo Convention: people, territory, government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. Not only that, the government also conceded to the BJE the application of the status of "associative state," which the Supreme Court again rightly struck down as being wholly inappropriate because such concept indicates the existence of an entity that is on its way to being a separate state. A state, it must be emphasized, that will get portions of OUR territory, OUR resources, and OUR people.

Unfortunately, what the Supreme Court could not do (because it legally can’t) is to recall Philippine entry into UN General Assembly Resolution 61/295, which allowed indigenous people the right to "internal" self-determination. It’s quite limited in scope, allowing merely for their economic, social, and cultural development (along with a certain degree of autonomy). While definitely a far cry from granting anybody independent status or statehood, the timing of our signing to this Resolution in 2007 was unfortunate, being at the height of the negotiations and the crafting of the MOA-AD. There was simply no compelling reason to sign on to that resolution, aside from being "good international citizens" (whatever good that brings us; I don’t even know why foreign governments have a say in this purely domestic matter), and it merely created the effect of government admission of the strengthening of the MILF’s position.

For some bizarre reason, certain sectors are only too happy to point to East Timor as a model. But why would we want that? That’s Indonesia’s decision. This is the Philippines. Furthermore, the concept of self-determination is inapplicable in Philippine peace discussions as the clear and overwhelming declaration of international law is that ethnic, religious, or cultural groups have no right to self-determination. Again, thankfully, the Supreme Court pointed this out.

Ambassador Seguis should be commended for his statement "of adherence to the Constitution" and that the government shall not "negotiate and adopt an agreement that is outside the boundaries of the Constitution." Nevertheless, the Philippines is already in a tremendously difficult position regarding future negotiations. Increased vigilance from everybody is now a must. And civil society is encouraged to put the same energy with which they forcefully campaigned for Noynoy to monitoring the propriety of this peace process.

Pinakawalan na nga
Sabah at Spratly’s, pati pa ba Mindanao?